Senate panel passes Medicare Advantage fix
October 2, 2009
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Senate Finance Committee late last night agreed to U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson's request to protect many seniors from cuts to Medicare Advantage as part of a revamping of the nation's health-care system.
The health-care bill being debated by the committee the last two weeks would have imposed deep cuts in a Medicare program that covers almost 1 million in Florida alone. Called Medicare Advantage, the program is popular with seniors because it offers extra benefits, including few if any out-of-pocket premiums and co-pays.
During committee meetings last week, Nelson offered a proposed fix aimed at preserving benefits for many of the people presently enrolled in these private Medicare plans. But the committee delayed a vote on the measure until last night.
There was a voice vote to approve a modified version of Nelson's amendment, which was filed jointly with three other senators. The amendment relies on funds already included in the committee's bill to preserve the benefits for most of the current Medicare Advantage enrollees in Florida. There, an estimated 800,000 would be grandfathered in. The remaining 150,000 didn’t face significant cuts under the broader bill.
Passage of the amendment came a day after the committee approved another initiative by the Florida Democrat that will spare millions of elderly nationwide from new taxes.
Under the bill, taxpayers would only be able to deduct medical expenses in excess of 10 percent of their gross annual income. Nelson's amendment keeps the threshold at the current 7.5 percent level for seniors.
That means an estimated nine million seniors across the country will be able to keep $6.4 billion in their pockets over the next ten years.
Last week, Nelson narrowly lost an effort to require the big drugmakers to put up $106 billion to cover the cost of prescriptions in the so-called Medicare donut hole.
The health-care bill, with all of the approved amendments, is expected to come up for a vote in the Finance Committee as soon as next Tuesday. If it passes, the bill must be combined with a version by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The full Senate then must vote, after which its bill must be merged with the House version.